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Differential argument marking and the multifunctional case marker -ha in Wutun: Between the argument structure and information structure


This paper discusses the various functions of the multifunctional case marker -ha in Wutun, a mixed Sinitic language with Northwest Mandarin lexicon and Amdo Tibetan syntax spoken in Tongren County, eastern part of Qinghai Province, Amdo Sprachbund. I will show that the use of -ha is connected to Differential Argument Marking and it is motivated partly by semantic factors and partly by information structure. The case marker -ha often occurs on the Recipient, Patient or Causee argument in clauses with two animate arguments and it can therefore be used to disambiguate arguments. Its use is also connected to affectedness, which can be operationalized in terms of definiteness and saliency. Patient arguments are more likely to be marked with -ha if they are totally affected (e.g. The dog ate the dumplings) than only partially affected (e.g. The dog ate some dumplings). However, the use of -ha cannot be explained solely on the basis of semantic factors and it is often connected to information structure, such as expressing contrastiveness, activating previously mentioned topic or differentiating between topical and focal parts of the sentence. In summary, -ha is used with highly affected non-Agent arguments that often play a special role in information structure.

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